Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )
Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. One of the beautiful customs on this day is to eat a piece of apple dipped in honey and other special sweet foods as a way of asking God to make things sweet for us in the coming year. People also traditionally bless each other on this day, wishing each other a good and sweet year to come. However, the best way to make the year sweet for ourselves and for others is to become 'sweet' people, remembering to smile and treat each other in a sweet and friendly way.
In our story, a kid finds out that 'sweet' isn't only something to eat.
"Have a nice day!" the lady behind the school-lunch counter said with a smile, as she handed Janet her change. With barely a grunt, the girl took her lunch tray and went to find a seat. If that lady wanted to go around all smiley-miley that was her business, but it wasn't Janet's style.
She had just taken the first bite of her fries when Janet felt a light tap on the shoulder. "Hi, is the seat taken?" a smiling girl from one of her new classes asked, pointing with her head in the direction of the seat next to hers.
"Looks to me like it's still there," Janet answered with a frown and went back to her lunch. She expected her to sit down, but apparently the kid changed her mind, because she quietly slipped off and sat next to someone else.
Janet didn't care. Though she didn't dislike people, she just didn't see any point to all the smiley, friendly chit-chat that most of the other kids seemed to spend almost all their free time doing. As far as she was concerned, it was a waste of time. After all, a person should spend her time productively. Either studying or at least doing something practical to help people - like she was planning to do after school that day...
LATER THAT DAY
"Okay, Janet. Here are the New Year's baskets. Make sure to give one to every person on the list, okay?" her mom said, handing her the 20 neatly-wrapped small gift baskets, each containing a dozen home-made cookies, an apple and a small jar of honey. Each year, before the Jewish New Year, Janet's mom tried to bring a little cheer to the patients in the nearby Jewish nursing home by bringing them these gifts. But this year, she had twisted her ankle, so she asked Janet to bring them instead.
Carrying them all in a big shopping bag, Janet walked in the front door of the nursing home.
"Going to do a good deed like your mother, huh?" the receptionist smiled as the girl walked by. Janet, wearing her usual frown, gave her a slight nod and went on her way.
She went to the first room on her list - Mrs. Goldman: Room 107. She knocked lightly on the half-open door and when nobody answered, she peeked in. She saw a small, elderly woman sitting on a chair by the window. The woman had a really sad, almost angry look on her face and Janet, feeling a little scared, was about to just leave the package at the door and move on when she heard a voice call out. "Well, come in already."
With no choice, the girl took a few steps inside the room.
"Well, what do you want?" the lady asked.
"Um, I brought you a New Year's basket ... Happy New Year," she said, handing her the basket unsmilingly and turning to leave.
"Wait one minute!" the lady called out, freezing Janet in her tracks. The girl nervously turned around.
"Why didn't you bring me the same gift as your mother did last year?" the woman asked.
Now as long as Janet could remember, her mother had been making and delivering the exact same packages. Same cookies, same apple - even the same kind of basket. Maybe this woman was senile or something.
"I ... think ... it is the same," Janet said slowly.
The lady shook her head. "Nope. All I see here are cookies, and apple and honey. It's missing the best part."
Now Janet was really confused. The lady went on.
"It's missing the big smile your mother would give me when she handed it to me and wished me a sweet year. I could almost live a whole year on that smile. I look forward to it all year. You don't get many of them around here, you know."
"Oh. I'm so sorry." Janet said, softly, as she slowly turned to leave.
"So? Where's the rest of my gift?" the woman insisted. "I can buy cookies in the gift shop, but a smile is worth more than gold. Come on, dear. Don't be like me - I never smiled as a girl either. Didn't have time for them - or for people either. Now I couldn't smile if I wanted to. I had a stroke last year and my face is paralyzed into one big frozen frown. And people? I didn't have time for them, now they don't have time for me ... " Her voice trailed off sadly.
Janet knew this was serious. She didn't want to let the lady down, and she didn't want to become like her either. Mustering all her might, Janet curled her lips into a wide, happy smile.
"Happy New Year, Mrs. Goldman! And may you have a good, sweet year!"
The lady nodded, and though she didn't smile with her lips, the happy, grateful light shining from her eyes said it all.
Janet's smile grew and grew as she handed out her baskets to the rest of the people on the list, and watched how the sweet foods and especially her sweet smile gave the elderly people new life. Probably they weren't the only ones who needed a friendly smile, either.
"Finished already?" the tired, harried-looking receptionist asked as Janet walked into the lobby.
"Almost," Janet said with a glowing smile - that from now on was going to be her special gift to everybody. "This last one's for you. Have a happy, sweet New Year!"
Q. How did Janet feel at first about smiling at people?
A. She felt it really didn't make a difference, so why bother?
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She saw how much it meant to the lady in the nursing home and decided to give people smiles from now on.
Something To Try: Today, at least once, smile at someone just to make him feel good.
Q. What life lesson do you think Janet learned that day?
A. She had thought smiling and acting friendly to people was just something meaningless that people did and a waste of time. But once she saw what a real difference smiling and acting sweetly to someone made in her life, she began to make the effort.
Q. Do you think that if we try to feel friendlier to others, it will affect the way they feel to us?
A. A person's heart is like a mirror. How we feel toward others will reflect back on how they feel toward us. When we are sweet, it makes our whole world sweeter, too.
Spiritual Exercise: At least one time today, smile at someone you normally wouldn't-and make the world a sweeter place.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that smiling at someone is a more valuable gift than giving them a costly present. How do you understand that?
A. A sincere smile is more than just a turning of the lips-it infuses the person we smile at with powerful and healing energy that reaches their very heart. What mere 'present' could compete with that?
Q. Is it appropriate to act sweetly toward people who aren't sweet to us?
A. While we certainly don't have to allow people to harm us in any way-people's unkind behavior needn't make us become like them. Nearly always things turn out better with others if we remain kind and sweet-and for sure it will make us feel better about ourselves.
Spiritual Exercise: At least one time today, smile at someone you normally wouldn't and make the world a sweeter place.